There are many ways in which information technology (IT) can be integrated into the curriculum. IT can, for example, enable access to learning material and resources, it can feature learners’ communication, and also provide instructional elements for the learners. The exact method by which IT is applied to the learning situation is however dependant upon the scenario in which it is required. This article is about computer-supported collaborative learning scenarios. These are characterised by the fact that two or more learners work together to acquire knowledge about a particular topic. Learners may sit together in front of the same computer screen and work in a learning environment, or they may be spatially or temporally separated and use IT for their communication as well as for access to the learning environment. This communication may use chatrooms, newsgroups, or one of the forms of audio-visual communication, such as videoconferencing. The method of communication should be adapted to best fit the learning scenario for which it is being applied (Ertl, Kopp, & Mandl, 2007). Whether or not the collaboration partners are in the same place, the computer screen and its contents are always the central element in the computer supported learning environment. The information displayed on the screen is used to focus the collaborative learning process on particular aspects of the learning task, for example, on ontologies and argumentation moves (Ertl, Fischer, & Mandl, 2006; Suthers & Hundhausen, 2003). Consequently, the design of the screen is of great importance, and an improvement in this area can be an improvement in the instructional make up of a learning environment. It must be noted that the term ‘design’ in this case is not used to mean the particular aspects of usability, but refers to development of an instructional prestructure of the shared screen (Ertl et al., 2006; Fischer, Bruhn, Gräsel, & Mandl, 2002; Suthers & Hundhausen, 2003). This structure can be seen as an external representation of the instructor’s knowledge about the topic at hand, and is given to the learners as instructional support.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Prior Knowledge: Knowledge that the learner possesses about the relevant topic before the collaborative learning phase begins.
Videoconferencing: Users use Web cams and headsets to have audio-visual conversation via Internet. Videoconferencing is often combined with the use of a shared application to enable users to work collaboratively with the same software tool.
Cognitive Overload: Caused by excessive demands on a learner’s mental abilities and can limit their capacity to learn and apply knowledge.
Collaborative Learning: Method of learning by which a group of learners collaborate to achieve improved learning results.
Instructional Design: The didactical rationale for a learning scenario which includes instructional elements as well.
Content Scheme: A content-specific representation of the structure of a particular topic.
Collaboration: Tight working together with a strong commitment of collaboration partners.
External Representation: A material display of knowledge and information which may include facts but also procedures and structures.